With so many food options available, it can be hard to determine what foods you should prioritize in your daily diet. The list below is a guide to help you make better decisions when you are at the grocery store, cooking meals, eating out, and trying to eat healthy. Incorporate these items into your meals and snacks every day.
1. Leafy greens
This includes spinach, kale, collards, swiss chard, romaine, and cabbage. Rule of thumb: the greener the better. For example, spinach and kale are significantly higher in nutrients than iceberg lettuce. Use a mix of leafy greens in your salads, sandwiches, and wraps. Add some spinach to an omelet or a pasta dish. Aim to get at least two handfuls of greens each day. (Two handfuls of greens is not as much as you think, and very doable.)
2. Bright-colored veggies
Another rule of thumb: the more colorful a food, the more nutrients it has. Choose carrots, beets, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and red onions. Other veggies are great, but the brighter ones give you more bang for your buck. Eat these happy-looking veggies with hummus, salsas, salads, sandwiches, rice dishes, or just plain. Aim for two to three handfuls each day.
3. Whole, dark grains
Most of the time, choose grains that are labeled “whole” and darker in color. Whole wheat and brown rice are examples. You can also choose barley, millet, quinoa (although it is really a seed), amaranth, bulgur, buckwheat, farro, oats, rye, spelt – the list goes on! There are so many different types of grains available, and most of them are versatile. You can get your grain on by eating oatmeal, pastas, salads, curry dishes, and Mediterranean-, Mexican-, and Southeast Asian-inspired dishes. Eat about two to three handfuls each day. Keep in mind, a slice of whole grain bread counts as one handful.
Like veggies, the rule of thumb for fruits is: the brighter the better. However, it is not too hard to find brightly colored fruits; so you can choose just about any fruit you desire. Fruit contains a lot of natural sugar; and although fruit also contains a lot of fiber that slows the digestion of sugar, you can definitely OD on fruit pretty easily. Choose a wide variety colors and types. Use them as snacks, as sweeteners for breakfast, or as dessert. Aim for one or two handfuls each day.
5. Basil and other herbs
Herbs are often overlooked as providing nutrition; but many herbs contain relatively high amounts of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A and iron. Many herbs also contain antioxidants, and their oils have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Basil, mint, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, and lemongrass are examples of herbs that should make their way into your salads, soups, marinades, grain dishes, sauces, salsas, and dips. You should probably get about one handful of an assortment of herbs each day to receive the benefits.
Maybe you are not a tea drinker right now, but consider adding a cup of hot or iced tea each day. Tea is very rich in antioxidants, and many herbal teas have medicinal qualities. You can choose black, green, white, or herbal teas, depending on your caffeine limits for the day. There are so many different types of tea that you can choose one to fit any mood, meal, or time of day. If you opt for iced tea, choose to make your own by buying a pack of tea bags and brewing it yourself. Pre-made iced teas typically contain high amounts of added sugar. Choose herbal teas from time to time and fulfill both the tea and herb requirements for the day.
Spices are simply ground-up herbs, plants, seeds, and minerals; therefore, they have a good nutritional profile. Many spices also contain antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. Sprinkle some cinnamon or cardamon over your oatmeal or vanilla ice cream. If you like it hot, add cayenne to your omelets and rice dishes. Red pepper flakes add delicious heat to pastas and breads. Play with Indian- and Thai-inspired dishes by making your own curry to add to grains and sauces. There is no real recommended serving size for spices, but try to incorporate a variety of spices into your main meals.
8. Some form of milk
Whether it be cow, soy, almond, or coconut, be sure to get a serving or two of milk each day. Milks are usually fortified with calcium and vitamin D, which you know is great for your bones. I recommend that we move away from relying on cow milk and instead incorporate different types of milk in our diets. You can keep both cow milk and soy milk in your refrigerator and use them for different purposes. For instance, when baking, I often use cow milk because I like the way cow milk works with the other ingredients. For breakfast cereals and oatmeal, however, I prefer soy milk so that I am not ingesting a lot of cow milk at one sitting. Choose a variety and aim for a serving or two each day to ensure you are getting some calcium.
Although it is technically a beverage, not a food per se, water is one of the most crucial elements that your body needs to function. The rule of thumb is to drink eight to ten servings (8 ounces per serving) of water each day. I simply fill my 22-ounce water bottle and aim to drink three or four bottles each day. I drink an additional bottle or half-bottle after a sweaty workout or run. Refillable water bottles are great because you can take them with you wherever you go, so that you can take small sips of water frequently throughout the day. Frequent sipping is better for your body than inundating your body a few times each day because it maintains steady hydration. Drink plain water, avoid adding a lot of flavor powders, and avoid bottled water and flavored bottled water. You can use a filter at home if you want, but focus on drinking the water from your faucet.
Again, this is not really a food, but it is a supplement to your food. I am going to bet that you do not get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs every day through food. Do not despair, you are not alone. I probably do not get an optimal amount of vitamins and minerals from my food, either. This is partially the food’s fault and partially our fault. Plants today do not always contain the nutritional content they used to. However, we also tend to eat a lot of processed foods that contain little or no nutritional value. If we commit to the first nine items above, we are doing our part in order to give our bodies what they need. However, to ensure that we are getting an adequate amount of nutrition, a multi-vitamin an easy way to supplement your food.
Have any favorites or tips on how to add these items to our diet every day? Please share with us by posting a comment below!